The Vampire Narcise

Chapter 17

~ III ~


Chapter 17

September 1804

Narcise stared out the carriage window. The rough, craggy hills of Scotland had long given way to the more rolling familiar green ones of England, and now that she and Chas were nearing London, the land had flattened even more.

The roads were crowded now, straight, and lined with rows of houses...and the smells! Even if she'd not been peering from the window, Narcise would have known they were approaching the city, for the air was filled with all of the aromas and odors-pleasant and otherwise-that came with it.

Angled back from the dangerous sunlight that still managed to filter through a blanket of clouds, Narcise settled in the corner of the carriage and watched the slices of life from her restricted vantage point.

So many things had happened since her arrival in London, and that unsettling night at Dimitri's home, that she could hardly conceive of it all.

The fact that she'd seen Giordan was only the least of it...or that was what she tried to tell herself when she woke, damp and warm, from unwanted dreams.

And dark nightmares. Narcise's insides tightened.

She glanced at Chas, grateful for a distraction. He looked almost angelic-an odd thought, to be sure, about a man who lived a life of such violence, always hunting, always killing-with the waves of his dark hair swirling around a face slack with repose. His lips were full and sensual, and his nose, straight and prominent beneath eyes fringed with heavy dark lashes.

He'd been to Paris and back since that night he'd left her in the old monastery ruins. Angelica was safely returned to London, and to the surprise of everyone, Voss had been instrumental in the girl's release. Yet, because Voss had already freed Angelica by the time Chas had found them, Cezar still lived safely in the bowels of Paris. Chas had brought his sister safely back to London, but meanwhile, he was even more determined to find a way to kill Cezar.

And now, something inconceivable had happened.

Voss and Angelica were to wed...and Voss had done the impossible: he'd somehow thrown off the bonds of his covenant with Lucifer. He was mortal and man once again, and it was only because of this change that Chas had agreed to give his permission for them to wed.

Now, he stirred, shifting, his heavy boots brushing the hem of her skirts where they mingled about her feet at the bottom of the carriage. Since all of this had happened, Narcise had seen the hunger in his eyes, the desperation and hope that somehow, something might change for her.

That she, too, might shed her allegiance to the Devil and become a mortal woman that he could love without reserve.

For, since his return from Paris, Chas had changed as well. The pain was deeper in his eyes, grooved more sharply at the corners of his mouth, and she could fairly feel the battle he fought with himself as he came to her. He loved her, of that she was certain, but he still hated himself for it.

And, of course, love was not only as long as one's lifetime, but also a concept of selflessness...something that, still, a Dracule like Narcise couldn't fully embrace. Chas seemed even more fully aware of that than ever.

And as if he knew he'd lost a battle, but was determined to win the war by maintaining his hold, Lucifer had raged in her mind and in her body. Her Mark blazed and roiled with his fury and control, reminding her that there was no way out.

At least for her.

She hadn't even been able to leave the carriage when she and Chas reached St. Bridie's-the convent school deep in rugged Scotland where his youngest sister Sonia lived. The religious symbols and holy presence were too much for her, a woman who bore the Mark of the Devil, and she was forced to wait while Chas went inside.

There'd been those religious markings throughout the monastery cellar where Chas had left her while he went to Paris. They'd formed a safe barrier against any immortal finding his or her way into the old safe haven.

But what haunted Narcise, what she tried to banish from her thoughts, was the fact that somehow, Giordan had not only found her there...but he'd come into the chamber by crossing that barrier only hours after Chas had left.

She'd met him at the door, saber in hand, heart racing madly out of control.

"Woodmore sent me," Giordan had claimed coolly. "He indicated there was something I was to retrieve. Now that I've arrived, I can only presume he meant you."

"Certainly not," Narcise had replied, trying to keep her breathing steady. She'd cut his hand with her saber-or, rather, he'd sliced his palm open when he yanked her blade away. And his bloodscent filled the air. Her fangs threatened to shoot free. Her knees felt as if they were about to give way. "I'm to stay here-perfectly safe-until his return with Angelica."

"And if he doesn't return?" Giordan had walked across the floor to wipe the blood from his wound. Slowly. So slowly, as if to allow her plenty of time to inhale his watch his body with its sleek, confident movements. He seemed to fill the room.

"I'll go to Dimitri. He'll protect me," she'd managed to respond.

"I never thought of you as one who needs protection, Narcise. You take very good care of yourself."

"Except when I'm locked away by my brother."

Giordan looked at her. His eyes were cold and flat brown today, icy and blank and so very angry. "Even then, you were formidable," he said. "In your own way."

"I don't know why Chas sent you here, but I'm not leaving. Especially with you. Just go." Please. Go.

"You don't know why he sent me here?" His laugh was more like a whip crack than a bell of humor. "I certainly do. Here, where I could smell him all over you. Where I could scent both of you on the bed and against the wall and everywhere else. The entire place reeks of you two, together. That, my dear, is why he sent me here."

She had to taunt him, to drive him away. "Then why prolong the agony, Giordan? There's no reason for you to stay and stew in your jealousy."

And that was when he'd moved. The next thing she knew, he was there, right there, so close, in front of her. His fingers gripped her chin. The scent of his blood so close made her dizzy. The smell of him, the warmth, the familiarity... She summoned the image of him with Cezar, the two bare shoulders, one golden and sleek, the other swarthy and frail, the firelight playing intimately over them.

Nausea pitched in her belly and her awareness of him returned to loathing.

"Jealousy? You believe that's what I feel? You're a fool, Narcise." He shifted his fingers to cup her jaw no less gently. "If I still wanted you, a bloody damned vampire hunter wouldn't keep me away."

And then he'd kissed her.

Not savagely, not as she'd expected, with his eyes blazing red and his fangs long and sharp...but so gently and softly. As if he were taking a moment to savor. Lightly, lightly, over her lips...

And Lucifer's black soul, she'd kissed him back. She'd fallen into the moment of heat and desire, the memory and beauty rushing through her-

And then Giordan had thrust her away, his eyes hot and knowing, arrogance in the very essence of his body. And disgust, there, too.

"We're nearly there."

Chas's voice, rough with sleep, sudden in the silence, jolted Narcise from her memory. Her cheeks blazed with shameful heat, her heart thudded as if she'd been caught doing something she shouldn't even as she felt a renewed surge of hatred for Giordan and his games...and the twinge in her Mark reminded her of who she was.

"To Rubey's," Chas added, as if responding to her startled look. "She'll feed us, and we can rest. I can also use her messengers to get word to Dimitri and Voss that we've returned." His voice flattened a bit at the mention of his future brother-in-law.

"I thought Rubey's was a pleasure house," Narcise replied with an arch look, forcing herself firmly into the present.

Chas's mouth twitched becomingly. "It is, but it's much more than that. The Dracule also use it as a central location to meet up and for communication. She houses a flock of blood pigeons there...and sometimes, Rubey's is preferable to White's. It's more comfortable and, as Dimitri would say, there aren't any mortals about, making ludicrous bets in their blasted book. And as I said...she'll feed us. Or, me, at any rate," he added quickly.

"Did you send Giordan to me? When you left for Paris?" Narcise asked.

The bit of levity drained from Chas's face and he sat upright. His expression had gone carefully blank. "I don't know exactly what occurred between you and him," he said, "but it's clear to me that whatever it was has made you unwilling to trust or love."

Not quite an admission, but close enough.

A spike of anger shot through Narcise, and her Mark eased in agreement. "What happened with Giordan has nothing to do with how I feel about you," she responded sharply. "I care about you...I desire you and enjoy being with you. But, as you're fully aware, Chas, I'm a Dracule. I am a selfish, self-serving, damned soul-and I'm immortal. Loving anyone besides myself is in direct opposition to who I who we of the Draculia are. Who Luce has forced us to be."

His face tightened and she saw the flare of hurt and anger in his hazel eyes. "You made the choice." He spoke hardly loudly enough to be heard over the rumble of the carriage. "To be that way."

Pain sliced through her, not from her Mark-it was strangely quiet-but from her heart, down to her deepest core. A choice? The thought was ludicrous. How could anyone make a clear decision when they were tricked and manipulated in their dreams by the most cunning demon of all?

In her case, it had been the choice between living a forever youthful, immortal life as a great beauty or one with a no longer perfect face, burned down one side of her cheek. The result would have been one of horror, with ropy, burned-away flesh where her smooth skin had once been.

In her dreams, Lucifer had helpfully shown her the image of what she would have been like after the burn healed...and offered her a way out. For a twenty-year-old girl whose vanity knew no bounds, there was hardly a choice. She had no real comprehension of the deal she'd made.

And...she realized later that Cezar must have arranged the incident that caused hot oil to splash and spill on her. It came from a lamp mounted high on the stairwell she frequently used. Her brother didn't want to live his immortal life alone...he wanted to live it with her.

In spite of his controlling, abusive ways, he worshipped her.

"Don't you ever regret it? Don't you ever want to change it?" Chas persisted, drawing her back from those horrible memories.

She held back a snort of disgust. "Do I want to be beholden to Lucifer? Do I want to be damned?" She shook her head, suddenly empty and dark everywhere. A cold knot sat heavily in her stomach. "Just because Voss claims a miracle happened doesn't mean it will happen to me. Hasn't Dimitri been trying for a century to break his ties with Lucifer?"

Her Mark was throbbing now, and she could feel its rootlike lines raging through her skin like tiny rivers of fire. She breathed deeply, trying to send the pain away.

Chas sank back into his corner, his expression weary and shadowed: another tacit admission. "Yes. There seems to be no way." His voice was bitter and soft. His eyes were closed and he became bathed in gray shadow.

"Chas," she began, then her voice filtered away. What was there to say? Her heart stirred for him in some soft, unlustful emotion, and her Mark raged so sharply that she had to smother a gasp. Lucifer had no patience for sympathy.

They trundled along in silence, the cloudy day filled with the sounds of city life: shouts, calls, barking, rumbling, clashing and rattling. The smells of baking bread, of coal smoke, of wet animal and roasting meat, of stagnant water and rotting waste.

Chas looked at her suddenly, from where he brooded in the corner. His eyes gleamed in the shadows and they fixed on her, dark and steady. "You once said you knew of no one who was visited by Lucifer and who yet declined the Devil's bargain. But that isn't true. You do know someone who has."

Somehow, Narcise was able to ignore the shuttle of renewed heat blasting over her shoulder's Mark. "Who is that?" she asked, suddenly feeling light of head. Suddenly afraid she understood.


They arrived at Rubey's late in the afternoon of a dreary, foggy day.

Narcise was still stunned and silent from Chas's confession, and he, for his part, had offered no other details. When she pressed him, he merely shook his head, closed his eyes and replied, "I've never told another soul. There's a reason I don't want to talk about it."

But now, at least, she understood his consistent, barely concealed disgust toward those of her race-those who had made what he clearly saw as the wrong decision.

How fitting, in a terrible, ironic way, that he should be judge, jury and executioner of those very people. For he could have been one of them himself.

Inside Rubey's, Narcise was whisked away for a warm bath-something their hostess was particularly fond of herself, according to the maid-and Chas disappeared in another direction, presumably to eat and clean up after the grueling journey.

As she settled in the large vessel of steaming water, Narcise was offered a sip of dark red libation from her choice of three small decanters. The cup was no larger than a sherry glass, fluted with tuliplike edges, and hardly taller than her little finger.

Narcise smelled the three options and selected the lightest of them. It wasn't until she actually sipped that she realized the drink was laced with... "What's in it? Some sort of elixir?" she asked the maid, who'd begun to wash her hair.

"Mistress Rubey's finest," was the vague reply. "She 'as a few such for the likes of ye. Some-at for rest, some-at for waking, some-at ken-at."

Narcise blinked. Her English was still that bit better than her French, but this moon-faced young woman's accent was so thick and her slang difficult to follow that she wasn't at all certain what she'd just been told. But she settled back into the hot, scented water and sipped as her hair was scrubbed and her head massaged.

Sometime later, the water had cooled and the maid had gone. Narcise settled in an armchair in front of the hearth, swaddled in a thick quilted wrapper with her damp hair drying in the fire's heat. From the street below, the sounds of living wafted up through the half-shuttered windows.

The sun was nearly gone, and Narcise imagined there were young ladies like Angelica and Maia Woodmore preparing for visits to the theater or to dances...and the men to visit their clubs or to escort their women to parties. There would be courtship and romance; perhaps erotic interludes in dark corners, gossip and rumors, giggling and whispering...

And the tradesmen were closing up their shops, and the businessmen their offices, and the mamas were sending their children off to bed with or without a governess-depending upon in which area of town they lived-and the lords were leaving Westminster after a contentious day of arguments and debates.


Narcise breathed deeply of the fresh air, which was rapidly cooling with the loss of the sun. Although it was only late September, the air was damp and bone-chilling, reminding her of her girlhood in Romania.

Despite the cold and damp, she'd had a comfortable life there, for her father was a close confidant of the ruler of their province. With two older brothers, one of whom married the voivode's daughter and was the conduit for Cezar's eventual gain of that throne, Narcise had been spoiled and petted and worshipped by family and neighbor alike.

She'd thought to marry one day, and the young, virile Rivrik had been her first real lover. She likely would have wed him if things hadn't changed...if Cezar hadn't found his savior in Lucifer and manipulated their lives into what they were now.

She closed her eyes and thought about where she'd been, what she'd dreamed of...and what was to become of her now.

There would be no wedding a man and bearing children, which was what she'd always hoped for as a girl. No family, no household to run. No friends with whom to gossip.

During the years of captivity with her brother, her only goal had been freedom-she'd never thought about what her life would be once she had her independence.

But now that she had freedom, now that she no longer had a goal to strive for and to dream about...what did she have?

Who would she be? What would she do, day after day? How would she pass this immortal, infinite life that would, on some Judgment Day, end with her entwined with Lucifer in hell forever?

This wasn't the first time these thoughts had entered her mind, but on this occasion, she was unable to dismiss the niggling and nagging that settled in her mind.

It had been well over a hundred years since she'd had a choice-what to wear, what to do, where to go and with whom to go. But now that she had it...what now?

The thought of centuries upon centuries stretching on and on into forever... The wrapper had become as stifling as her thoughts and Narcise tossed it away. Standing, she paced the chamber, dressed only in a thin, borrowed chemise, her damp hair seeping through the fabric over her back and shoulders.

Since leaving Paris, she'd either been hiding or traveling or waiting for someone to tell her what to do-none of which was particularly fulfilling or pleasant.

It was not something she meant to do for the rest of her life.

Beginning now.

Spurred by the jolt of decision, she rang for the maid. At least she could leave this room and find Chas below with their Irish-flavored hostess.

Rubey had been warmly welcoming, although Narcise had felt the weight of more than casual attention as she glanced over her. The proprietress sported shiny, curling hair that conveniently (and possibly unnaturally) complemented her name: it was reddish-blond and had been done up in a most fashionable style, with little curls around her cheeks and sparkling combs tucked in place. Her clothing was just as modern and extremely well-made, and Rubey's silk gown of robin's-egg blue had made Narcise feel as if her muslin day dress was little more than a servant's castoff, which was part of the reason she'd eagerly accepted the offer of a bath before taking any time for conversation.

The other woman was younger and more attractive than Narcise had expected, for the establishment had been a popular place for the Dracule for decades. She'd expected someone much older than the two-score Rubey appeared to be-and a well-preserved four decades she was.

The maid was as efficient and businesslike as her employer, and when Narcise was dressed in a much cleaner, softer and more becoming gown than her muslin print she took her leave from the chamber and slipped out into the hall without waiting for the maid's direction.

Rubey was obviously a successful proprietress, if the decor and luxurious appointment of her house was any indication. But Narcise wasted little time admiring the ornate mirrors and elegant furnishings, although she did pause at some of the paintings. There was a Vermeer! And a van Honthorst that made her smile because it was so appropriate for a house of pleasure: a woman playing a lute, which was a blatant sexual pun.

But even the mastery of the Dutch painters wasn't enough to keep her from her need to move. Suddenly all she wanted was to be alone, and away from everyone in this place.

She wanted to be out, under the night sky, alone...for the first time in more than a century.

She was done with huddling and hiding.

Narcise's excellent hearing and sense of smell allowed her to avoid the various servants and other occupants of the pleasure house, including Chas, whose voice was coming from behind a door on the first floor. The low, lyrical responses were obviously from the Irish proprietress, and Narcise didn't wait to learn the topic of their conversation.

She found her way to a side door and slipped outside.

Her hair was still damp, but despite the lift of the cooling breeze, Narcise wasn't cold. She was free!

This little alleyway was silent and dim, but beyond, Narcise could hear the sounds of the rest of the world. As she made her way out of the narrow space between the house and its neighbor, she felt the air stir. With the soft buffet came the scent of something familiar and pleasant...damp wool and cedar. It reminded her of Giordan, and she paused with one hand resting against ivy-covered brick.

Her heart pounded and she listened, lifting her nose to better smell the breeze...but the aroma was gone as quickly as it had come and she heard nothing. A phantom memory perhaps, or another man who wore wool and the scent of cedar.

When she moved at last, a brief shower of drops sprinkled onto her shoulders and head from the fog-drenched ivy and she stepped out into the street.

From the front, Rubey's establishment rose as high and forbidding as the home of a duc back in Paris, with many windows and an intimidating entrance. Narcise had learned that the proprietress actually lived in a smaller home nearby, and she wondered that a woman was able to keep up and furnish two such residences.

Then she walked brusquely past the pleasure house, with no destination in mind, but wholly aware of the fact that she had never, ever walked on a city street by herself. And that she had no one to return or answer to.

Exhilaration spurred her and she drew in a deep breath, becoming more aware of her surroundings, hardly noticing that she was the only pedestrian not dressed in a cloak or other evening wrap. Carriages clattered by, couples walked together or in groups, dogs slinked in alleys and cats peered from the lengthening shadows.

Narcise walked and walked, through the affluent residential area where Rubey's was located and, after many turns and crossing two small squares, onto a street lined with shops now closed for the evening. She passed a theater or some place of entertainment, noticing conveyances lined up, waiting for their riders to return, and night watchmen strolling along.

"Well, now, ain't this a foin surprise."

Narcise halted when a large hulk of a man emerged from a dark spot between two buildings to block her way. She realized belatedly that she'd turned down a passage that was deserted but for a slight figure in the distance, just turning the corner onto another street. It was a narrow way, with a sewage canal on one side, and lined on the other by houses or shops with dark windows-either vacant or filled with slumbering residents.

Something moved behind her, and from the corner of her eye, she saw two more shadows sliding into the glancing moonlight in her wake.

A little trip of unease quickly faded. Not only were these mere mortal men, but she was neither a captive nor prisoner weakened by a necklace of sparrow feathers.

"I tol' ye, Griff, it would be a lucky even'n', comin' out this a-way," said one of the others, nearer now, behind her. His companions laughed in agreement.

They moved closer, bringing their smells of desperation and lust, as the first one smiled and reached lazily for her. "An' she's a looker, ain't she?"

She smiled back. Allowed her eyes to glow just a bit of red. "Take your hand off me," she said calmly-and was delighted when the fool didn't comply.

Instead he laughed and tugged her closer to him so that she bumped against his torso. He reeked of sweat and smoke and old ale, and despite her height, he was taller than she. "A furriner, listen to 'er, will ye," he said. "Well, we'll 'ave to show the lady a good time 'ere in ole Londontown, aye, boys?"

The other two were just behind Narcise, blocking any escape she might attempt, and one of them slid his hand down her spine and over her rear, his fingers scoping intimately around the bottom cleft of her arse. Narcise's reflexive spark of fear at being touched dissolved instantly and she slid into action. With one smooth move, she flung the big man's hand away and spun to face the one who'd groped her.

Grabbing him by a woolen coat crusty with stains and smelling of smoke and vomit, Narcise lifted him up and tossed him into the air. His arms flailed as he flew back against a shuttered window on the brick wall.

"'Ey!" shouted the big man, as if offended and affronted by her reaction. "Wot the hell d'ye think yer doin, foin lady?" He lunged for Narcise again, but she easily ducked out of his way and then grabbed his arm, using his own weight and momentum against him.

"I told you to take your hands off me," she reminded him as she spun him sharply into the third man. They tumbled together like a load of boulders and she stood over them, looking down as they scrambled to their feet in fury. Her pulse had kicked up and she felt a rush of energy through her. Even her Mark was more at ease than it had been for days.

"Ye loose-lipped bitch," growled the big oaf, and his insult was echoed by the one she'd whipped into the wall a moment ago. The three of them, as cowards often do, shouted encouragement to each other as they bolted toward her in a rage.

Narcise didn't flinch, and in fact, was enjoying herself as she fought them off. Despite her restrictive clothing-a corset, slippers, and shoe-length skirts-and the loose braid that whipped around with her every movement, she was quick and efficient. It was a testament to their stupidity that it took three rounds before they realized she would neither go with them, nor suffer being touched. She didn't even have to bare her fangs in order to stave them off-it was a matter of strength and speed, both of which she had as an advantage over the three men.

When they were at last in an unmoving heap on the ground, their noses bloodied-the scent not even the least bit tempting to her-and lips cut, perhaps an arm broken or an eye blackened, she stood over them. "Don't ever accost a woman again. The next time, I'll kill you."

The largest one whimpered when she bared her fangs at last and swooped toward him, her eyes glowing bright and red as she yanked him up by his shirt. "Do you understand?" she demanded, breathing through her mouth so as not to inhale his putrid odor, now colored with the scent of terror.

"A-aye," he managed to say, closing his eyes and turning away as if expecting her to take a hunk out of his skin.

"Good," she breathed, and licked her lips enticingly. "Because I'll be watching you...and the next time you even look at a woman, I'll find you. And I'll be hungry." She showed him her fangs, long and wicked.

Then she smelled the pungent odor of fresh urine and shoved him toward the half wall along the sewer, satisfied that he'd been well and truly frightened. "Go off with you. All of you," she ordered, standing there in the dark street, feeling as strong as she'd ever felt-as powerful, as sure of herself.

And as her would-be attackers scuttled off into the night like frightened beetles, she felt a bubble of laughter come up from inside her. Joyous and warm, delight swelled inside her as she realized who she was.

And what she could do. And-

"How startling. I don't believe I've ever heard you laugh."

Narcise's stomach seemed to plummet to the ground. Choking off her laughter, she spun, her insides turning inside out and upside down, her thoughts scattering. "What are you doing here?" she managed to say as she swallowed her heart and felt her cheeks burn.

Giordan sauntered toward her with studied casualness. The moon was kind to him, filtering silvery light over the thick, dark curls on his head and the broad shoulders encased in a dark coat. It was open to reveal a silver-buttoned waistcoat and white shirt, brilliant and crisp, fairly glowing in the low light. His boots were soundless and his eyes dark and glittering, focusing on Narcise with unpleasant intensity. His comment had been laced with irony.

"I've been following you since you left Rubey's," he said. "At first I thought you had a destination in mind...but then I realized you were simply walking." So she had scented him, and, Giordan being the cunning, manipulative man he was, had probably kept himself downwind from her as he followed her through the streets. Bastard.

Their eyes met and Narcise found that she couldn't pull hers away. Her heart pounded high in her throat and she tried to dig down inside to pull out her anger and revulsion toward him...this man who'd destroyed her.

This man who was looking at her as if he'd never seen her before.

"I thought-" She stopped herself. She had nothing to say to him. Nothing at all.

"If I didn't feel such sympathy for the way you flayed those poor bastards, I'd have found the entire scene more than a little amusing," he said, gesturing in the direction where the cowardly beetles had gone. "Is that why you were laughing?" His tone had softened, perhaps, a bit.

She drew herself up, still searching for that deep betrayed feeling, and replied, "No." Her fingers were shaking and her insides were doing unpleasant and pleasant things at the same time.

Handsome as sin he might be, familiar and beautifully scented...but she couldn't feel anything for him. Nothing but that old hatred and revulsion. She stoked it so that it burned stronger inside her, giving her a barrier behind which to hide.

She told herself that she had nothing to say to him, that she had no desire to even be near him, yet her mouth moved and the words came out before she could stop them. "Why are you following me? Surely you don't think I need protection."

"Are you going to Paris?" he asked, stepping closer, pinning her with his eyes.

"Are you mad? Go back there? Never."

He nodded briefly. "I didn't think you'd be that foolish."

Giordan was very close now, standing so that his scent filled her every breath, overwhelming even that of the nearby sewer, battling for her consciousness. Her insides fluttered wildly and Narcise felt a rush of heat and desire. She swallowed hard, willing herself to step back and away...but her feet wouldn't move.

His eyes found hers, holding her gaze and her heart thumped madly as he came nearer. She took a step back and he smiled knowingly.

"What are you afraid of, Narcise?" he taunted, his gaze melting into something hot and warm.

All she need do was turn and walk away from him. There was nothing more she needed or wanted to say to him. She didn't want to even breathe him in the air.

But her knees trembled and she felt a rise of heat billowing, filling her. "I'm not afraid of you," she replied, even though her veins were pounding and surging, reacting to his nearness. Her eyes were drawn to his mouth, his lips slightly parted, full and beautifully shaped in the silvery moonlight. No.

"No?" he asked sardonically.

"Why were you following me? Because you thought I was going to Paris?" she asked, desperate to change the subject...and to ease away from him. His glittering gaze made her insides tickle and flutter.

"Either that or you were making an escape from your vampire hunter," Giordan replied. "Is that why you were sneaking off from Rubey's? Have you tired of Chas Wood-more now that he's served his purpose?"

She knew that to respond was just to bait him, to continue to keep him there, looking at her with his cold eyes. But, though she ignored his obvious lure into a discussion about Chas, she had to know something else. "Why would you think I'd go back to Paris?"

The moonbeams played over his face, swathing half of his square chin and mobile lips in silvery light and leaving the other side in shadow. His gaze searched hers and her heart skipped a little. She willed it to stop jumping around.

"Woodmore went to Scotland to see his sister. Weren't you with him?"

"I couldn't go into the convent," she replied. "Luce's hold is too strong for me to enter. But I'd like to know how you were able to enter the old monastery-"

"So that's why," he murmured, half to himself. "He didn't tell you what he learned about your brother." A little ironic smile twitched at the corner of his mouth. "He doesn't trust you. Imagine that."

"What are you talking about?" Narcise demanded stridently enough that a trio of passersby paused and looked over at them. She turned her back to them.

"Perhaps you'd best ask your lover what he doesn't want you to know," Giordan replied.

"How can you know about what happened in Scotland?" she said from between clenched teeth. How could he know when Chas hadn't even told her? He'd been vague when she asked, telling her that Sonia hadn't had a clear vision and he hoped to get a message from her later with more information.

Which meant that Chas had either lied to her or...something.

"I know because he told Rubey, and Rubey tells me everything," Giordan said. His accompanying smile was both condescending and meaningful. "She has nothing to hide from me."

Rubey. A little shaft of pain zipped through her as she realized the layers of meaning there. Narcise struggled for something to say that would wound him right back. "Rubey?"

He merely held his smile in place and looked at her.

Narcise's mouth tightened as a wave of memory and hatred rushed over her. She'd trusted him, opened herself up to caring about him...and he'd destroyed her. "I certainly hope she doesn't have a brother," she said stiffly. "I don't think she'd take kindly to a betrayal when she's served her purpose."

Even in the faulty light, she saw his expression settle into one cold and hard. "There can be no betrayal, for there's no love between us."

Frustration and pain reared inside her and her vision tinged red. "There's never any love with a Dracule. Lust and the moment of pleasure, yes, always...but love?" she scoffed. "Never."

"I loved you." He spoke so quietly his words were nearly lost by the sound of a passing carriage...yet they rang hard and cold and angry.

"You used me, Giordan. I believed you were trying to build my trust, that you truly cared about me. You did everything so perfectly when all along, you had other interests. It took me some time, but I finally realized why you never wanted Cezar to know we were...were friends. Lovers. Because you didn't want to ruin your chances with him. He was the bigger prize, wasn't he?"

She hardly comprehended what she was saying, just that she'd waited so long to spew her hatred and agony at him. She wanted him to understand what he'd done to her. She wanted to inflict the same pain on him, but she didn't know how, other than words. "Of course you would want him. He was the one with the power, with all of the money and control. I was merely a way to get to him."

"You believe that?" he said, his words choked and low. His hand whipped out and his fingers closed around the front of her gown. "You truly believe that I wanted Cezar? Even after this?" He gave her a rough jerk and she flew up against him.

His mouth covered hers, hard and warm and angry, and Narcise closed her eyes at the familiar taste of Giordan, the demanding press of his lips, sliding against hers...roughly forcing her mouth open to take the sweep and slide of his tongue.

Her hands settled on the front of his shoulders, fingers curling around the top of his wool coat, the edges of his curls brushing their tips. She kissed him back, keeping the kiss one of ferocity and fury instead of tender and sensual, trying to remind herself how much she loathed well she'd despised him...even as their lips mashed together, sliding and caressing in all the sleek, sensual heat.

She pressed herself against him, angry, wanting him to want her as much as she'd wanted him...then. Wanting him to feel the rise of desire-and hope-only to have it torn away.

Her breasts shoved into his chest, his arms closed tightly around her as one hand caught the back of her neck and held her immobile. He delved deep, matching her now with temper, his tongue hot and slick and strong, his mouth firm and knowing. A rolling, expanding heat filled her, turning her damp and soft, in spite of the undercurrent of violence, and she closed her eyes, trying to keep hold of her hatred.

Narcise bit deliberately at his lip, her teeth sharp and fierce as she nipped, then pulled sharply, drawing blood. Her fangs had come forth and when she eased back, his red eyes glowed down at her, the tips of his fangs showing beneath well-kissed lips, now bloodied and gleaming with a red mark.

He was breathing heavily, his irises blazing around steady dark centers, and she lunged forward to taste his lips again. The bit of warm, coppery blood settled over her lips and tongue, shooting desire down, deep into her core. Giordan. Narcise sucked on his lip, drawing the blood, and realized that little sample was not enough.

She tore at the collar of his coat, baring the side of his neck, and pulled away from his lips. Just below his ear, she viciously sank her fangs in-hating him and wanting him at the same time. Giordan jolted against her with a low cry, and the surge of blood flooded her mouth, exploding as if released from a dam. She sighed in relief, sucking in the clean, warm lifeblood.

Desire and memories filled her, his scent and taste became her world: his strong shoulders and powerful body, the soft silk of his curling hair, the hot erection swelling against her beneath layers of was Giordan, after so long, after such pain and deep betrayal...

And yet it was not him. Not the same.

Never the same.

He was shuddering against her, his arms tight but trembling, his body sagging somehow back against the half wall along the sewage canal. She found warm skin beneath his shirt as she tore it from his breeches, her fingers brushing the dust of hair on his belly, the smooth muscles that shuddered at her touch. When Narcise pulled away to look up at him, he bent to capture her mouth again-roughly and with some deep, driving anger, his fingers curled deep into her braid, gripping her head. She tasted heat and blood, felt his fingers tightening against her, his fangs scraping against her lips. He seemed to want to punish her.

It was a battle-their mouths, their bodies, there on the street, now in a shadowy corner: lips, hands, teeth, tongue. Hot, sleek, pounding.

He covered her breast with one rough hand, sliding his palm over her curves as she leaned against him, still angry, still hating him, but unable to stop. Unwilling to.

Narcise twisted her face away and caught against one of his fangs. Her lips split and now her own blood mingled with his, in the air and on her tongue.

Giordan stilled, his chest moving with rough heaves against her, and she saw desperate hunger in his eyes. She licked her lips, watching him, tasting the blood-their blood, together-warm and rich and potent.

"Do it," she taunted softly, holding his gaze, her breathing unsteady. "Taste me. Take me, Giordan."

He shoved her away, suddenly, his mouth flat and hard, streaked with blood. His eyes furious and filled with revulsion, burning her, as he dragged the back of a hand over his mouth.

Narcise took a breath to steady herself, her insides twisting at the ugliness in his eyes...yet her heart was pounding from desire as much as from anger. At herself and at him. She trembled with pain and lust as they glared at each other.

"See," she managed to say, licking the last bit of blood from her lips. "Lust and pleasure, even in the face of such hatred. I could have lifted my skirts right here, but I'd still loathe you afterward."

"Narcise-" he began, his bruised lips hardly moving.

But with the pleasure and the familiarity, she'd fallen back into those horrible memories, the black, dark days of his betrayal...the pain was fresh and raw once again.

"By the Devil's dark soul, yes, I hate you. I saw you. With Cezar. It's hard to miss the expression of erotic pleasure on a man's face-the Fates know I've seen enough of that." She swallowed, her throat dry and scratchy. "I believed you. I believed in you. You destroyed me." Her voice broke a little at the end and she swallowed again hard, angry at her show of weakness. "And I'll hate you forever for it."

There was a long silence as they stared at each other. Loathing and dark emotion vibrated between them as they faced each other on the dark and busy street.

"Forever is a very long time," he said at last, his voice a mere rumble.

"And we'll both be alive for it, won't we? Goodbye, Giordan," she said, and walked off, her knees trembling, her insides twisting. She squeezed her eyes closed against threatening tears.

She suspected that he would follow her again, and when she got to the end of the street, she looked back covertly.

But he was walking away, his hair and the tops of his shoulders dusted with moonlight as he strode off.

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